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Ben Curtis to join European Tour for 2004

Open champion and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Ben Curtis is to join the European Tour next year.

Curtis, who came from nowhere on the final day to lift the famous Claret Jug at Royal St George's in July, announced on Tuesday that he would divide his time between the two tours.

The 26-year-old from Ohio, who also reached the semi-finals of the World Match Play championship at Wentworth in October, expects to play 11 events on the European Tour, which will qualify him for full membership.

Curtis believes his decision will help give him a more rounded game as he aims to prove that his British Open success was no flash in the pan.

"It seems conditions are not the same as here (playing on the manicured courses of the PGA Tour) and the weather is not always great. But I have got to deal with that and I don't think there really will be problems," he said.

"I hope I will pick up a lot of different shots on the courses in Europe because you have more opportunity to play in different conditions and improve your game.

"I think my short game will improve, especially the putting. I would like to get down to 27-28 putts per round and I would like to be known as a world class player."

His decision is unusual among American golfers, the vast majority of whom play almost exclusively on the PGA Tour. But Curtis is looking forward to a change of scenery.

"After winning the Open there have been a lot of opportunities for me, and one of the things Candace (his wife) and I talked about was the opportunities for me to play golf elsewhere," he said.

"Candace and I just went over the schedules and felt it was a great opportunity to try, especially as we haven't any kids yet. There are some great tournaments around the world, not just here in the U.S., and it is an honour to play in them."

Curtis plans to start his European season at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand at the end of January but is undecided on the rest of his schedule.

He will join other top players such as Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Darren Clarke who also divide their time between both sides of the Atlantic.

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